By almost every measure, Saul was the wrong man to be Israel’s first king. He was weak, stubborn, selfish, and arrogant. At every turn, he failed to live up to God’s standards and fulfill His commands.
One of Saul’s greatest failures is recorded in 1 Samuel 15. Saul had been ordered to carry out God’s judgment on the Amalekites. The Amalekites had been long-standing enemies of God’s people, and the Lord had included the prophecy of their doom in His Law (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). God chose Saul and Israel’s army to be the instruments of His wrath against the Amalekites, and commanded Saul to “go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” (1 Samuel 15:3). The point was total destruction—to thoroughly “blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Deuteronomy 25:19).
But Saul didn’t follow those orders. Instead, he kept the best of Amalek’s livestock and treasure—ostensibly to later sacrifice to God. He also took Amalek’s king, Agag, as his prisoner, keeping him like a humiliated trophy of a great military achievement. And because of Saul’s failure, the Amalekites would live on, and continue to pose a threat to God’s people (see 1 Samuel 30).
As God’s prophet, Samuel confronted Saul, issuing this stinging rebuke:
Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king. (1 Samuel 15:22-23)
Then Samuel ordered that Agag be brought forward so he could complete the judgment Saul had failed to fulfill. Scripture graphically records that “Samuel hewed Agag to pieces before the Lord” (1 Samuel 15:33, emphasis added).
In his sermon “Hacking Agag to Pieces,” John MacArthur uses this bloody episode from the Old Testament as an illustration of the ferocious battle each believer must wage against the sin that remains in his or her life. We cannot be content to mostly destroy our old, sinful patterns. We must completely and thoroughly blot it out, and leave no remnant or opportunity for it to crop up again in our lives.
Here’s how John explains it:
When you were saved and I was saved, there was at that moment a crushing defeat of sin . . . our sin was crushed. But, we still have remaining sins. There are some Amalekites running around loose in everybody’s life. We all have our Agags. And the problem in our Christian lives is not that sin has not been defeated with a crushing defeat. It has, but there is still remaining sin. There are some loose, iniquitous Amalekites in all of us. And though there was a great and glorious and triumphant defeat at the time of our salvation, there is the necessity that the remaining sins be hacked to pieces—or, they will revive; they will plunder our hearts and sap our spiritual strength. We cannot be merciful with the Agags of our life. We cannot be merciful with the remaining sins in our life or they will turn and create an insurrection and a rebellion to attempt to destroy us.
In Romans 8:12-13, Paul explains that living by the Spirit means “putting to death the deeds of the body.” He makes the same point in Colossians 3:5, which literally translated is a command to “put to death the members which are upon the earth.” That self-discipline of rooting out and destroying sin is the focus of John’s sermon, and throughout he gives several helpful, practical principles for hacking to death the remaining sin in your life.
When we asked the Grace to You staff for sermon recommendations, “Hacking Agag to Pieces” was the first and most frequent suggestion we received. This is a landmark message from John MacArthur’s ministry, and it served as the foundation for one of the most powerful and poignant chapters in my favorite of his books, The Vanishing Conscience.
I can attest from personal experience and from the testimonies of others that this sermon will help you see clearer than ever before the sin remaining in you and your responsibility to deal with it. We know God’s Word always accomplishes its purpose (Isaiah 55:11), and this message in particular has to the potential to transform your life.